In India traditionally, waste has been looked at in two distinct ways, one which you can sell to your local scrap dealer and the other which is kept at arm’s length to be dealt with by a certain class of individuals. As kids growing up many if not all of us have seen the familiar site of our mothers carefully keeping aside newspaper, milk pouches and iron to be sold to the local scrap dealers for hard cash. As kids many of us probably have never taken our own waste out and handed it over to the waste collector, or emptied it at the local community dump. The social and cultural stigma attached to this practice has been historically embedded in our brains since the time when our caste decided what we could or could not do. Though a lot has changed since then, the dogma associated to waste has continued to haunt us. As we age and enter the work force, we bring with us a certain predisposed mindset concerning how waste should be management and dealt with, which is one of the major reasons as to why I feel companies have the outlook they have when dealing with their waste.
An organisation is the cumulative thought process of its entire work force, from the bottom, up to the top management. In order for us to progress towards implementing change in our organization, we must start with unlearning certain habits, change our perception of how we determine others value based on preconceived notions that we hold and consider to be so true. Relating this to how companies manage their waste, and the overall situation of waste management in the country, we have massive a transformation that needs to be undertaken, that is; the tough task of changing people’s mindsets.
Where and how do we start? Bringing any transformation, or change requires us to continuously keep asking the question why, till we just cannot answer the why any more. I have done this exercise and arrived at my why? From a young age majority of us have been exposed to a certain way of life and thinking. We learn things looking at how are parents act, friends at school act, what is taught to us in textbooks in school and colleges. In India, it’s your immediate family, god, money, career and marriage, with family and money being the most prominent of them all.
This narrative needs to change, from what we teach our kids, the values we instill in them, to what they are taught in schools about individual responsibility and taking ownership. Our culture, with all the great things it has to offer and teach is also stuck in the dark ages in some practices that may have been relevant historically but have little or no relevance in the new world. Men in India are spoilt beyond belief, first by their mothers who cocoon them to the extent that they are hardly made to help out in daily household chores or clean up after themselves. Mothers in India are so over protective that in many cases men grow up with little sense of communal or household responsibility. Then they expect the same from their wives, cleaning up after them, making their bed, washing their clothes, serving them food, then picking up after them.
A whole generation has grown up without learning about accountability or ownership and you can see it in people you know and meet every day. For the rich kids it’s a lack of personal & financial accountability to their parents and to the society at large, growing up with the false sense that somehow their parent’s success and accomplishments have been transferred to them simply by the fact that they are some one’s children. For the poor it is the constant thought of being poor, reinforced by our society by constantly referring to them as helpless and poor, giving them handouts for free and eventually making them so use to living on hands outs that they start thinking that it is their birthright to receive them.
Not taking accountability or ownership of why they find themselves in a certain position and making financial background an excuse to not change their lives. I concede that there are those who are desperate and require the help of society at large to uplift them out of extreme poverty, but beyond a point it becomes the responsibility of the individual to pull themselves out of a given situation by not focusing on what resources that they don’t have, but by being resourceful and using the resources that they do have. Kids growing up poor have a hard time, as they are not exposed to a variety of things, most critical of those being proper education and health related habits. Some of them overcome this great disadvantage that life has thrown at them to be successful beyond belief, but most are caught up in the mindset of being poor or in making quick money by cutting corners. Then there is the great Indian middle class, sandwiched between the two, confused about whether they are rich or poor, Canadian, British, American or Indian. Coming from a middle-class upbringing myself, my father was fighter pilot in the Indian Airforce, my mother a school teacher I grew up with a sense of having, yet lacking but always aspiring for more.
What I derived looking at this confused state of mine while growing up and throughout high school was feeling of always comparing what I had to what my friends or neighbors had. I guess the biggest flaw in the middle-class way of thinking is that of not appreciating what one has and to continually look at two opposite spectrums of society thinking we are better than one but worse off than the other.
In all three cases mentioned above what is the common thread? Mindset. Challenges faced by us as individuals, collectively as a society and as a Nation can only be overcome if we start changing ourselves through behavioral interventions that force us to stop, think, evaluate and then act based on our learnings, experiences and beliefs, which are directly co-related to the early stages of our childhood and then reinforced throughout our lives either through positive reaffirmation which also include inaction in the form of ignoring an act or habit. This must be a continuous process, starting from how and what we teach our kids at home, what and how our educational institutes teach in school and colleges and finally how and what we are rewarded for at work.